Turkey says that after its forces complete their operations in Syria’s al-Bab, they will move towards the Kurdish-held city of Manbij.
“Now it is time for Manbij, which belongs to the Arabs, not the PYD or YPG,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday.
Turkish authorities first announced the capture of al-Bab last month. They have made similar claims at least twice since then. According to Erdogan, the city is almost cleared of Daesh terrorists.
In August 2016, Turkey began a major military intervention in Syria, dubbed “Euphrates Shield,” sending tanks and warplanes across the border. Ankara claimed that its military campaign was aimed at pushing Daesh from Turkey’s border with Syria and stopping the advance of Kurdish forces, but Damascus denounced the operation as a breach of its sovereignty.
Kurdish forces, mainly the Democratic Union Party, also known as the PYD, and its military wing the YPG, liberated the northern Syrian city of Manbij from Daesh last year. They are now currently in control of nearly all of Syria’s entire northern border with Turkey.
Ankara accuses the PYD of having links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group that has been fighting for an autonomous Kurdish region inside Turkey since the 1980s.
Erdogan also noted that Turkey wishes to work with its allies towards ridding Iraq of Daesh and liberating Daesh’s stronghold in Syria, Raqqah, but will not work with the PYD or the US-backed YPG. “If our allies are really sincere, we tell them: We will act with you so long as we cleanse Raqqah from Daesh and give it back to its original owners,” he said.
He stressed that he had on multiple occasions called on the US to halt its support to the Kurdish forces in Syria, especially the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is a coalition of Arab fighters and Kurdish YPG forces.
“It is certainly not possible for us to agree with or act together with the PYD or YPG…One cannot say there are good terrorists and bad terrorists, and we will never try to use one terrorist group against another,” he added.
The SDF launched its campaign to capture Raqqah in November 2016 and took control of some areas up the Euphrates Valley.
For nearly six years, Syria has been fighting foreign-sponsored militancy. The UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimated in August last year that more than 400,000 people had been killed in the crisis until then. The world body stopped its official casualty count in the war-torn country, citing its inability to verify the figures it received from various sources.